What does conservatorship mean? What is a conservator? A brief definition of “conservator” would be “someone with legal responsibility for another person’s affairs.”
Conservators are usually appointed when a person is unable to care for themselves. But there’s more to it than that.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- What a conservator does
- Types of conservatorship
- When conservatorship may be deemed “necessary”
- Alternatives to conservatorship
Let’s start with the basics.
What is a conservator and what do they do?
Conservators are court-appointed individuals who are given the ability to manage another person’s finances and personal affairs. They’re able to limit the conservatee’s spending and, depending on the extent of the conservatorship, any other financial and personal decisions.
Typically, the conservatee is incapacitated in some way or a minor legally incapable of making these decisions. It’s the duty of a conservator to manage their conservatee’s affairs to the best of their ability, including arranging for:1
- Health care
- Recreational activities
It should be noted that the term “conservator” may not be used in every state jurisdiction. For instance, in Illinois, the Probate Act was amended in 1979 to allow a “guardian of the estate” to manage the affairs of an incapacitated individual.2
In other states, conservators are called “trustees.” Although the terms and state laws around them differ, conservators and their local titles generally have the same legal function.
What are the types of conservatorship?
Broadly speaking, there are two types of conservatorship: individual and corporate.
Individual conservatorships appoint one person as the conservator over another. This is similar to a guardianship. In fact, one person can be both conservator and guardian.
Corporate conservatorship places a corporation or organization under the management of a regulating body, usually a government office. The conservator oversees management of the corporation or organization for a temporary amount of time.
This usually happens when a company becomes insolvent and unable to function. The conservator may take steps to ensure legal business practices and procedures are in place, including a complete reorganization of the executive board.3
Conservatorship vs. guardianship
Conservators and guardians differ in their duties. A guardian’s main responsibility is the physical and medical care of their appointed individual. Conservators must see to the personal and financial aspects of the conservatee.
When is a conservator required?
Courts mandate a conservatorship when an individual is incapacitated in some way. A mental health conservatorship is required when someone suffers from a mental disability, such as dementia, which prevents them from making sound financial and personal decisions.
Other situations that might demand a conservatorship include:
- Suicidal behavior
- Developmental disabilities
- Physical disabilities
Before a conservatorship can be ordered, the potential conservatee must undergo rigorous mental examination to determine if they’re actually incapacitated. Medical professionals, including psychiatrists and physicians, are required to provide verifiable documentation of diagnoses. Courts will only appoint a conservator once the case has been clearly made.
Similarly, the conservator must provide thorough documentation of how they’re managing the conservatee’s money and personal affairs. These documents are carefully scrutinized by the court.
If the conservator is found to be abusing their position, the conservatorship may be revoked. Conservatees are also able to sue for the removal of the conservatorship if they feel they’re being mistreated or that the conservatorship is no longer required.
Are there alternatives to conservatorship?
Conservatorship can be avoided in certain situations through legal planning. When pertaining to a minor, there are measures one can take to protect their financial affairs until they come of age, including:
- Joint tenancy: Joint ownership allows the minor access to their property once they come of age. If the co-owner dies or loses possession, ownership passes directly to the minor.
- Joint bank accounts work in a similar way, granting minors access to funds in an account managed by an of-age individual.
- Power of attorney: Giving someone power of attorney allows them to act legally on the behalf of an individual. This can include financial decisions and choices pertaining to health care.
- Special needs trust: This allows someone with a physical or mental disability, or chronic illness, to receive income by establishing a trust and appointing a trustee to oversee it. A special needs trust helps the beneficiary access public disability benefits, because many require a minimum income.4
Conservatorship: Get your questions answered
Finding yourself in a situation that may require conservatorship can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to end-of-life planning. Fortunately, it’s not something you have to face alone. Whether you want to review your options or plan ahead, there are legal experts who can help you navigate the process.
Legal plan workplace benefits can connect you with a network of attorneys. Ask your employer if they offer legal plan benefits to help take the stress out of your financial planning.